Since we’re two weeks into 2017, I’d like to make a new resolution, one that starts with the “why” instead of the “what.”
Don’t know what a what resolution is? For an example, let’s go with the archetype of all New Year’s resolutions: you join a gym. You commit to work out everyday, but then one morning your 6am alarm seemed particularly early, and before you knew it you rolled over and pressed snooze. This is a what resolution, a fleeting intention that dies quickly once you become distracted. It’s focused on doing, and once the doing ends, the resolution often ends with it.
It’s not that it wasn’t good resolution; it just didn’t give you the grace and guidance you needed to really make a change. My theory? It’s because we often start with the what instead of the why.
When we start with the why, our resolutions are less guidelines (I’m going to do this! Every day! For a year!), and more guideposts. They help us get back on track when we’ve lost our way. The whys happen to be far more meaningful, too. While the what of your resolution might have been to go to the gym everyday, the why might be, “I want to have more energy.” And so when your alarm goes off at 6am and you’re wondering why on earth you’re getting up when it’s still dark outside, instead of cursing the what (“Ugh! Why do I have to do this?”), you remember the why (“Man. I don’t want to get out of bed! But I want—and downright need—more energy.”).
But what about those mornings when your why isn’t too convincing? Then it’s time to ask another why: “Why is this not working?” Maybe you need to go to bed earlier or try working out in the evenings instead. Or maybe you just capital-H Hate the gym and are more suited to a yoga studio, or would be better off with a walk around your neighborhood to clear your mind or time on an elliptical machine at home while you watch the morning news or catch up on your favorite comedies (See? Netflix can be a part of your New Year’s resolutions).
When your resolution starts with a why instead of a what, your intentions aren’t based on doing something (which typically makes us feel like we’ve failed), but on feeling something (true inspiration for transformation). They are less mandates and more practices. And practices give us the grace and the space to start over again and again, because they are something we can return to day after day, no matter yesterday’s outcome.
“Always, we begin again,” St. Benedict famously said, and returning to the why of our resolutions instead of the what allows us to do so. We might like the idea of making New Year’s resolutions because a new year seems like a new beginning, but with each weekend comes a new week; with each day, a fresh start; and with each moment, an opportunity to “begin again”—to remember our why, and to then determine the what.
What is the why behind your what?